Rowboats Q & A
What’s the difference between a rowboat, a shell, a canoe, and a kayak?
A rowing boat is a boat designed to be operated primarily by oars. Oars are paddles that are attached to the boat by a pivot point such as an oarlock. The term "rowboat" is frequently used to mean a rowing boat that has the oarlocks mounted on the gunwales (the top of the sides of the boat). Small boats are frequently rowed by a single oarsman using a pair of oars (one with each hand).
A shell is a special type of rowing boat that has the oarlocks mounted on outriggers extending out from the sides of the boat. This allows the use of longer oars on a narrower boat.
A rowboat is beamier and more heavily built and intended to carry a load. A shell is longer and narrower and intended to go faster than a rowboat.
The terms canoe and kayak are often used interchangeably. They are both boats designed to be operated primarily by hand-held paddles. In America, the term "canoe" usually means an open boat (no decking) and the paddler(s) using single-bladed paddles. And the term "kayak" usually means a decked boat with the paddler(s) using double-bladed paddles. In other parts of the world, these terms are more or less interchangeable.
Traditionally canoes were used for transportation and carrying cargo on inland waterways. Kayaks were use for hunting sea mammals in the ocean. Kayaks needed to be faster and so were very narrow and capsized easily during the hunt. Because of this they were designed to be "rolled" and the paddler was sealed into the cockpit.
Why do some rowing boats have transoms while others do not?
A transom is a flat, usually vertical surface at the aft end of a boat. On an outboard motorboat it serves as a mounting surface for the motor. If a rowing boat has a transom, it is for a different reason. This could be to increase the width of the boat at the stern while keeping the overall length to a minimum. A flat vertical surface beneath the surface of the water creates a lot of drag, so some rowboats have a wineglass shaped transom with the underwater portion being the narrow stem of the glass. Boats that do not have a transom are known as "double ended" or canoe stern. This allows the water displaced to flow smoothly back together as the rowboat moves through the water.
How does the length of a rowboat effect its performance?
The waterline length will effect the hull speed which is the maximum speed at which a boat can be rowed before it starts to climb its own bow wave. The overall length, along with freeboard, sheer line, and the shape of the bow and stern determines the above water profile, which determines the windage. Too much windage is undesirable in rowboats.
How does the beam of a row boat effect its performance?
The waterline beam effects the static (or initial) stability of a row boat. The wider the beam the more stable the row boat. Waterline beam also has an effect on how easily the boat moves through the water. The narrower the waterline beam, the shorter the distance water get pushed aside as the boat moves forward, and the more easily it moves. The beam at the gunwales effects the type of rowing system that can be used on the row boat. Wide gunwales for oars that pivot on the gunwales, narrow gunwales for oars that pivot independently of the gunwales.
What effect does the bottom shape have on a row boat?
A flat bottom rowboat requires less draft than a v bottom. Flat bottoms have a reputation of pounding in waves, but if the flat part of the bottom is narrow and remains under water it will not pound. It is a common misconception that the bottom shape determines stability, but this is determined by the sides at the waterline.
Does a row boat need a keel?
Some traditionally built rowboats have a keel as a part of the construction method. Modern building methods eliminate the need for a keel, and they are rarely seen in modern designs. Keels or centerboards are needed on sailboats, but not on rowing boats.
Why do some rowboats have skegs?
Skegs are sometimes used in very short rowboats (dinghies) which do not have enough length to form the stern into a vertical edge. In such a short boat, the skeg is needed to give directional stability for tracking (going straight between strokes).
How does the shape of the sides at the waterline effect a rowing boat?
This determines the dynamic (or secondary) stability of the rowing boat. Sides that flair out above the waterline give more dynamic stability than sides that are vertical at the waterline. Static stability is determined primarily by waterline beam.
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